Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Schnursprecher Glockensprecher? (Kristiansen et al, 2017)

Kristiansen et al, 2017endorsed and elaborated on the hypothesis that Proto-Germanic was born in the traditional North Sea urheimat as an intermingling between the likely IE-speaking Corded Ware/Battle Axe Culture and the local, non-IE speaking Funnelbeaker farmers, among others.

This older linguistic hypothesis posits that Germanic words without clear etymologies are probably not IE and that the early sound shift in Proto-Germanic is the influence of a native tongue.  Since IE daughter languages generally have native substrates, it is reasonable that PtG borrowed as well.

While the core intent of the Kristiansen paper is focused on the genetic influence of the PtG and PIE homelands, I think identifying the Corded Ware as the prime linguistic ancestor of the people who would become proto-Germans is problematic for a host of reasons. The Germanic substrate hypothesis is vital to this, and yet it continues to be pruned back from its former status as 'an explanation for everything weird in Germanic'.

Also important to this augmented hypothesis is an outdated linguistic phylogeny stuffing Centum Germanic into a North European node with Balto-Slavic, which I'm not sure even the most bug-eyed lumper would support today.

Rather than review a host of supporting facts evenhandedly, I'll just throw darts at this narrative. If you disagree, tell me why.

Odin and Frigg (Leeke)
1. Proto-Germanic is descended from a squarely centum language, sufficiently removed from the cultural zone of Balto-Slavic and Indo-Aryan. It would become necessary to say that satemization partially baked the eastern half on the Corded Ware nation, not the western half, after CW had spread into the continent.

But if Tocharian is descended from the language of the Afanasievo Culture (Yamnaya, jr.), then it would be a remarkable coincidence that the isogloss just happens to stop at the point where lineages commonly associate with the Corded Ware nation and its descendants transitions to that of languages and lineages associated with centumization and R1b.  (Also since publishing this post, a number of early historical German tribes have been sampled and unsurprisingly, are very R1b and very Western)

2. Here's a problem regarding the Nordic Bronze Age origin that can be summarized in a single axiomatic statement. When Bell Beakers existed near other human beings, even as small minorities, the Bell Beaker cultural expression and posture is always dominant, without exception. I think this is especially true with the development of the Nordic Bronze Age and the maritime culture emphasis.

So we would have to accept that Beaker language, while present and plausibly Centum, did not permanently influence this area, but that a "Centum" Corded Ware language did.

3. But it might not matter anyway. A more refined understanding of Proto-Germanic by specialists has shown that 'germanisms' are part of a natural linguistic process over a long period of time. Some of the most identifiable characteristics of parental proto-German may be rather late.

The point is that these changes didn't happen in a decade or a hundred year period or something. They happened gradually and that that inertia continued after the breakup of proto-German and continues today, self-stimulated.

4.  Like the probable spread of Celtic in Late Bronze Age/Early Iron Age Britain, it may disappoint a lot of Germanic language speakers if the origin and spread of proto-Germanic is no older than the Jastorf Culture in which elite speakers dominated a region of archaic tongues prior to the first millennium.

This doesn't mean that Germanic is not native to the region.  Germanic certainly broke off the mother tongue in its own right and it absolutely makes sense that it dwelled in a North Sea linguistic bubble for a long time.  It may even be the case that a host of para-pre-proto-germanic (!) languages existed in the region.  

What doesn't jive is that break-up of actual proto-Germanic is just too late to envision a wide-spread "Germanic proto-nation". Somebody's axe-wielding elite dominated somebody else recently. Jastorf looks red-handed in all of this - timing, language influences, directionality.

Here's a very short chapter "The Sea and Bronze Age Transformations" by Prescott, Sand-Eriksen and Austvoll in Water and Power in Past Societies (Emily Holt, 2018)


  1. Speaking about the birth of protogermanic it is important to take note of the Schrijver's book " Language contact and the origin of the germanic languages". His theory is that proto-germanic was born when a balto-finnic population switched to a centum IE language. In doing so they pronounced this language in such a way and according to balto-finnioc pronunciation rules that a PIE centum language became proto-germanic.

    1. Schrijver's views are interesting and in a way highlight some problem areas for the above paper. I'll try and find a copy to read tonight.

      Of course it's difficult (maybe nuts) to assign language families and events to long dead people with no records. The reality could well be something unexpected like late-TRB spoke IE through elite dominance, Cw spoke some kind of Samo-Finnic and Beaker some kind of para-Vasconic. I doubt that is the case.

      Probably, TRB spoke a dead farmer language (not anything remotely related to a uralic language), CW spoke satemizing IE, and Beakers are a bit more difficult to say, but probably a centumized brand of LPIE based on its dominant daughter cultures of the regular Bronze Age, particularly in South Central Europe and early Iron Age Italy.

      While Schrijver's points on Baltic sound influences may be correct, this could have and probably did happen fairly late (possibly as the jasorf culture spread north and east) and I believe this happened after the influence of a Hallstadt Celtic superstrate, or at least a considerable degree of borrowing.

      In other words, Celtic was influencing a language that would become proto-Germanic before the first Germanic Sound shift. That would have to happen on the continental mainland with the Jastorf and the sound shift spoken of by Schrijver may have indeed happened as ppt-Germanic spread into Southern Scandinavia around 600-500 B.C.

      It would be difficult to suggest that Jastorf was the Celtic-speaking culprit because Celtic borrowings wouldn't happen in a time or place where the Germanic sound shift had already happened.

      Thanks for posting

  2. The problem with the narrative of today's historians is that they assume a linear development that actually did not exist. The tree model is as obsolete as the opposition of centum and satem languages as well as the substrate of a Pre-Germanic non-Indo-European language in Germanic. But there are influences (adstrates) from other Indo-European branches and languages (Celtic, Balto-Slavic, extinct Indo-European dialects) because of closer and more distant contacts during the centuries. So it's not as easy as we would like it.

  3. I'm nowhere near being competent to talk about this subject - though I find it fascinating anyway - but I have trouble believing that anything can be determined, given the time scale we're working with. I'm currently reading Graham Robb's book The Discovery of France, which details the incredible variation in languages and dialects that existed in France right into the 20th century. In some places, it was literally village to village, and Parisians couldn't make themselves understood in the 19th century if they left the immediate vicinity of Paris. With that kind of variety in modern, post-revolutionary France, how do you sort out what happened thousands of years ago? It seems more like a parlor game than a serious subject of study.

  4. I've got the spam filter on. Sorry for waiting to publish